As part of my series about “How Business Leaders Plan to Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing, John DeMarco, Experian Senior Vice President of Automotive.
John DeMarco is Experian’s Senior Vice President of Sales and Customer Engagement, Automotive. He’s responsible for leading a 70-person sales team, focused on driving growth in the automotive channel among Original Equipment Manufacturers, Lenders, Dealers and Strategic Markets. He oversees sales strategy, execution and sales operations, as well as the business’s implementation and fulfillment teams.
Prior to joining Experian in 2017, John had a rich history in the automotive business, which began in the customer service division of the Ford Motor Company. He’s also held several senior leadership roles during his nearly 20-year career at CDK Global, Inc. (formerly ADP Dealer Services).
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Not many people get an opportunity to work in an industry that they’re passionate about; I’ve been fortunate enough to be one of the lucky few. My career started in the automotive industry with Ford Motor Company; I was a part of the sales and marketing team. After about six years, and a couple of stops in between, I had an opportunity to work at ADP Dealer Services, now CDK Global, Inc. I spent nearly 20 years there, in a variety of roles, and eventually found a home with Experian — where I’ve spent the last three and a half years.
I began my career with Experian overseeing the automotive sales team, eventually taking on our customer engagement group, as well. What I find remarkable about my journey has been the common thread; data. Regardless of the companies I’ve worked for, we’ve used data to power decisions, and now with Experian, we’re leveraging data and technology to help automakers, dealers, lenders and consumers understand trends in the market and make more informed decisions; whether that’s managing risk, improving marketing decisions or buying the right car.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Earlier in my career, I was in the process of putting the finishing touches on a big sale at a large dealership group; we were negotiating some of the finer details and it was getting later in the evening. As soon as we agreed to terms, I ran down to print out the contracts, and unknowingly, printed the contract terms on check stock. It delayed the process a bit — we had to void the checks and ended up costing some money in the end.
But what it taught me was, I needed to slow down. It’s a bit of the tortoise vs. the hare. Even though it was getting late, if I were to have slowed down and made sure all of the minor details (the right paper) were in place, the process would’ve gone a lot more smoothly. We tend to want to work quickly, but it’s more important to work efficiently — that means not having duplicate efforts.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I have a strong passion for the automotive industry and automobiles. And whenever I have a strong passion for something, I like to learn as much as I can about the topic. Many of the books I’ve read have revolved around the history of the automotive industry and the individuals who played a role in its evolution. Books, such as Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans, Carroll Shelby: The Authorized Autobiography, and American Icon, have really enhanced my passion — it’s probably why I’ve left the automotive industry twice, only to find myself coming back.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
At our core, Experian is a data and information services company — and that’s across the board. So, when we think about the automotive industry, our focus centers on how we can use data to help automakers, lenders, dealers and consumers make more informed decisions. We want to ensure the industry understands the types of vehicles on the road, loan and lease trends, and how to reach in-market car shoppers. From a consumers’ perspective, we help them understand what they can expect when buying a vehicle; average loan amounts, average monthly payments, average interest rates; but we also use data to help them gain insight into a vehicle’s history — an important component in the used car buying process.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Every decision we make has to circle back to the car shopper. How do we ensure our clients — whether that’s automakers, lenders, dealers, aftermarket suppliers — are positioned to help consumers identify financing options, understand a vehicle’s history, find repair parts, etc. The automotive industry has had its ups and downs, much like any other industry, but we need to help our clients adjust to those changes and drive back to the consumers’ needs.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My wife and I have been very fortunate; our kids are older — we don’t have to manage through remote classes. The biggest challenge — especially for my wife — has been me being home all of the time. Under normal circumstances, I’m traveling almost every week, but now I use the entire house as my office; pacing around the house on conference calls. More than six months in, it’s still in work in progress, but we’ve been able to make the work from home environment productive.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Throughout my career, I’ve always been very keen on face-to-face interactions; I enjoy getting to know my team and tend to feed off of the energy — the lack of in-person communication has been the biggest challenge for me. This has been particularly difficult with so many of our Experian employees encountering different challenges and circumstances; I want to make sure our employees feel heard and appreciated.
For us, the solution has been frequent communication — that could be recurring business updates, weekly senior leadership updates. We’ve also encouraged weekly conference calls with team members to catch up and lend an ear.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Over the past six months, we’ve been consistently exposed to pandemic-related programming — and it can be quite overwhelming. I’ve even read some health experts recommending limiting your exposure. We’re all going through different situations, so to whatever extent possible, it’s important to take time for yourself. You have to take a mental break, otherwise you risk becoming burnt out — that could be work-related or even with personal responsibilities.
Similarly, it’s important for businesses, such as automakers and dealers to recognize the mental toll that the pandemic can take. As an industry, we want to deliver our message to the masses; but we need to understand that everyone’s situation is different — we need to be empathetic. Some folks aren’t in the market for a car, while others may have a newfound need. The automotive industry needs to help consumers navigate the recovery; that could be buying a new car or performing maintenance on a current vehicle. You need to communicate with these audiences differently. Be aware of consumer sentiment in your local markets and create messages that will resonate with them.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
In the early months of the pandemic, the automotive industry saw a decline in new and used vehicle registrations — though we saw some positive trends towards the end of the second quarter. For instance, according to Experian’s Q2 2020 State of the Automotive Finance Market, in April, new vehicle sales were down 50.8% year-over-year, while used vehicle sales were down 54%. In June, new and used vehicle sales rebounded, with new vehicle sales down only 10.6% and used vehicle sales actually increased by 0.2% compared to 2019.
Despite some of the uncertainty with unemployment rates and business restrictions, there appears to be some appetite and pent-up demand for vehicles. Manufacturer incentives and low interest rates seem to help sales rebound. But with the average loan amount increasing, automakers and lenders need to help car shoppers find ways to make loans affordable, and also fit within their budgets. Staying on top of auto finance trends will help the industry find ways to boost sales, make cars affordable and navigate the recovery.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Prior to the pandemic, we saw a shift to digital; but that has since been accelerated. According to the recent McKinsey & Company COVID-19 Consumer Pulse survey, most business types have seen more than 10 percent growth in their online customer base during the pandemic and many consumers plan to continue shopping online in the future. We can expect to see the adoption of digital retailing to the automotive industry; which is predominately focused on in-person transactions. In fact, according to CarGurus, in June, 63 percent of survey respondents preferred to negotiate prices online, compared to 65 percent in April and a quarter of respondents in February.
The industry needs to adapt. With more car shoppers becoming accustomed to digital retailing, how do you ensure the same level and convenience as more traditional strategies — incorporate at-home test drives, negotiations and delivery options.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
As the industry continues to evolve, the solution is data. It helps remove the guesswork. Data helps lenders minimize risk to their portfolio and offer car shoppers appropriate terms. It allows automakers and dealers to better identify in-market car shoppers, and ultimately reduced wasted ad spend by only reaching those that are most likely to buy. It helps repair shops identify the vehicles on the road and better positions them to fill the service drive. With so much uncertainty in the months ahead, data will help the industry make more informed decisions and move forward.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I’d recommend a similar approach — double-down on data. There will be many unknowns in the months ahead, and data will inform your decisions — whether you’re a manufacturer, dealer, lender, etc. Gaining insight into market trends will help you find ways to meet car shoppers’ needs and better assess your strategy moving forward. The more insight you have, the better positioned you will be to navigate the recovery.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My mantra — particularly in sales — has always been, “life is good above the number.” It’s a quote I’ve heard some time ago, and it’s stuck with me. Essentially it means, do what you have to do to get the job done; work hard. If you work hard, things will fall into place. On the flip side, if you lose sight of your goal, and you begin chasing it, you tend to do things that are out of character; you begin to press and stress. A strong work ethic goes a long way, and it’ll help you meet your objectives at the end of the day.
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